He Ain’t Heavy


For the last, I don’t know…say, 30 years or so, we wanted little or nothing to do with him. Some blamed the Army, because he didn’t come back from Germany in the same shape he got there. But that’s too easy; he had problems before he went in. That might be the reason he joined anyway.

An alcoholic. A barely functioning one, going through relationships and marriages, jobs, cars (wrecked and repossessed), hospitals and rehab and halfway houses, 12- and more step plans. But there was always something crossing the path of his success: a bottle of vodka. He couldn’t resist, and eventually stopped pretending to try.

After years of making excuses for him, of putting up with phone calls at three in the morning outlining outlandish plans of all of us jumping on a plane to Vegas and cleaning up with his surefire method of beating the house, of listening to rambling sales pitches for gold coins and Amway and pyramid schemes that would make us all rich, of trying to find him places to live, we – his brothers and sisters, and to an extent (at our insistence) his mother – kicked him out of our world.  No more invitations to family functions; he was conspicuously absent at my niece’s wedding, which he probably didn’t even know occurred. I live out of town and don’t get back often. I can’t venture to guess when we had our last conversation. When I spoke to our other brothers and sisters, I never asked about him. They never ventured any information.

Today I happened to think back on younger days, back when we were close. We were only two years apart. When our parents divorced, he and I chose to go with my father, me because I thought it would be an adventure, he because he worshiped the ground our father walked on. For quite a few years it was us against the world, every time we moved to a new town, started a new school, we looked out for each other.

Something else I happened to remember today: he seemed to have problems with headaches for a long, long time. I recall that even when he was a preteen, he was getting tested for this and tested for that as various doctors tried to find the cause of these vicious, painful headaches. Who knows? Maybe that’s why he turned to vodka. Nothing else could ease the pain.

Late last night he visited a friend, and they started drinking. According to the friend, he started getting one of his headaches, which got worse and worse, until he was literally in tears. He began banging his head violently against the wall, as he’d done in the past. Eventually, he collapsed.

His friend rushed him to the hospital, where he was pronounced brain dead. The doctors, as far as I know, aren’t sure whether the blood in his brain was caused by the violence he inflicted on his head, or if a stroke was perhaps the cause for this particular head pain.

It doesn’t matter now.

Family members in the area were notified and all rushed to the hospital. He was on a ventilator. The doctors told them that there was nothing they could do. At approximately 3:30 this afternoon, according to wishes in his Living Will, the plug was pulled.

At 6:05 this evening, March 28, 2011, just two hours ago as I write this, my brother died. He was 57 years old.

Rest In Peace, Bro.

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